Employee theft is a problem for many businesses, and can cause significant financial losses. As such, it’s treated very seriously by employers. But what if you find yourself falsely accused of stealing at work?
Our guide will look at what employee theft is, how it should be investigated, and what you should do if you fall under suspicion. It’s important to stay calm, and understand your legal rights.
What is Theft at Work?
Being accused of stealing from work is a serious accusation which can come with irreversible consequences. If you are being accused, it’s important to understand what it means, and how you should deal with it.
Theft from the workplace is considered gross misconduct and can lead to dismissal and even a police investigation. The consequences for someone who is caught stealing from work can be very serious.
See Also: Accused of gross misconduct.
Stealing From Work – What’s Considered Theft?
The definition of theft in the workplace is broader than just physical items or money. Here’s a list of the most common issues which can lead to an allegation of stealing.
- Cash theft. When cash goes missing from the premises, this is considered a theft investigation. It might be that the petty cash has inexplicably been depleted or the till doesn’t balance at the end of the shift. Either way, those at work on that day may face a grilling from the boss.
- Supplies theft. Supply theft can range from a small item going missing to a larger, more expensive, piece of equipment. Once things go missing, management will have to investigate.
- Stock theft. All stock is signed and accounted for so when it starts to dwindle quickly, fingers will start pointing. Stock going missing can lead to budgets being stretched and employees not being trusted.
- Time theft. This occurs when employees are paid for time they did not work. This essentially means that employees declare an untruthful number of hours worked. They are, therefore, getting paid for hours not worked. Employers are using software to monitor employee hours. When time theft is suspected, disciplinary action could be sought.
- Data theft. Data protection is a huge deal in businesses and GDPR guidelines are very robust to account for this. When personal data has been breached, employers have to report this to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Failure to report incidents can carry extremely heavy fines. Data theft is a criminal offence as set out in the 1998 Data Protection Act, Section 55.
I’ve Been Accused of Stealing at Work – What Should I Do?
Being accused of stealing in the workplace can prove to be an extremely distressing and stressful time. It is important to understand how this will be investigated and what possible outcomes there may be.
If you have been accused of theft, make sure you are given all the evidence against you. This evidence may be first hand footage of you stealing or may be an accusation of theft. Either way, this will usually mean a disciplinary process will be followed, which may start with suspension from work pending investigation.
During such procedures, your employer must conduct a thorough investigation and you should co-operate fully. Not cooperating will only worsen the situation and may be considered a disciplinary issue on it’s own.
Try to gather as much evidence in your favour as possible. Perhaps other employees will be able to back up your claims. Keep records of all conversations and meetings you are involved in.
It is important, above all, to remain professional at all times. Maintaining professionalism throughout the process will go in your favour.
Remember: if you are the subject of an investigation into theft, and are innocent, then a proper process should find you innocent. Should your employer not follow proper procedures, they may leave themselves open to a claim of unfair dismissal.
Can You Be Sacked for Stealing Without Proof?
Theft is considered gross misconduct in most scenarios, which means you can be dismissed for it. However, you should not be sacked based on suspicion and without any proof.
The burden of proof for disciplinary action related to theft at work is lower than those required by a criminal court. Employers should be able to show they had reasonable grounds to believe the emploee was responsible.
Employee Rights When Accused of Theft
Employees accused of theft have the right to a proper investigation and fair disciplinary process. A fair process should follow methodical steps to reach a conclusion.
- An employer should carry out a thorough investigation of a theft allegation.
- They should have reasonable proof of misconduct, and be able to show there were reasonable grounds to decide the employee was guilty.
- Employees who are suspected of stealing may be suspended, pending the outcome of the investigation.
- Employers should still be paying wages during a suspension period. Failure to pay full wages during suspension can lead to claims of unfair dismissal.
- Evidence will then be gathered and interviews held with any possible witnesses. There might be other evidence such as CCTV footage or an eyewitness.
- Next, the investigation may conclude that stealing did take place and there will be a disciplinary meeting. Or they may not have enough evidence to pursue a case and the staff member may be dealt with following other procedures, such as a formal written warning.
The Disciplinary Process
When the investigation has been carried out, employers need to hold a formal disciplinary meeting at work. This gives everyone a chance to present their evidence before the employer can decide what happens next. Most companies have a policy which sets out the process involved.
The disciplinary process should be organised and conducted fairly. Here’s what a robust disciplinary process should look like:
Even where wrong conduct (such as an accusation of stealing) has not yet been determined, you will be invited to a disciplinary meeting.
This is part of the fact finding process, and you should have the opportunity to find out about the accusations of theft made against you beforehand. This will give you time to prepare your response, and gather evidence of your own.
Here’s what should happen before a disciplinary meeting:-
- Adequate notice should be provided to the employee of the upcoming disciplinary meeting. The notice period should never be less than 48 hours. Sometimes it will be longer than this, largely based on the complexity of the case.
- When the notice is given to the employee, this should also come with any relevant documentation. Nothing should come as a surprise to the employee on the day. They have the right to see the evidence and prepare their defence.
- The invite to such a meeting should be clear and on point. The letter should state that this is a disciplinary meeting.
- The invite should then detail all accusations that have been investigated.
- Employees have the right to representation on the day. This could be a trusted person or a trade union representative.
- They should also be made aware that the hearing could instigate the employee’s dismissal.
During the Disciplinary Meeting
- All allegations should be explained clearly and outlined at the beginning of the meeting.
- Put forward all evidence that backs up the accusation.
- The employee should have time to put across their defence without interruption.
- There should be someone impartial who can take some minutes of the meeting which should be available to all parties.
- The employer will go away to consider everything that happened at the meeting. This will be added to any evidence already collated.
- They will then consider their verdict, taking the time to make an informed decision. Even when all the evidence points at guilt, the employee must be given a fair hearing.
- Finally, the employer will decide which action to take. Often, the end result will be dismissal due to the breakdown in trust. However, if the employee has a previously clean record then they may decide to offer a second chance.
If You’ve Been Unfairly Dismissed for Theft
When the disciplinary is over, if you have been unfairly dismissed for stealing, you have a few options left. You might be innocent and have been blamed for something you didn’t do. Or perhaps you are a victim of an unfair process that wasn’t followed correctly.
Every employee has the right to a fair disciplinary process and can raise a grievance if this hasn’t happened.
You can make a complaint on the following grounds:
- Your employer did not follow their own disciplinary process properly.
- In the absence of such policies, they also did not follow the ACAS Code of Practice.
- You wish to challenge the evidence against you.
- You have some new evidence you wish to share.
- You could argue if this has happened to another member of staff but the outcome was different.
You have the right to ask your employer to reconsider once they have supplied you with their written verdict. If you do this to no avail and have a strong argument, you can consider taking your employer to a tribunal. The tribunal will hear from all sides. examine the evidence and ensure all correct procedures were followed.
You may not get your job back but you might get compensation and clear your name. Once relations reach this point, there is no easy way of maintaining any kind of working relationship.
For further advice, contact ACAS or Citizens advice. Their services are free.
See Also: False Allegations at Work.